A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada
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General History


Without the help of members of the Society of Friends (Quakers) and novelist Leo Tolstoy, who both pleaded the cause of the Doukhobors and helped them financially in their move, the Perverseffs would never have been able to leave Russia. Once here, they faced the usual hardships confronting all of our early pioneer settlers - a harsh unyielding land in a harsh climate. Yet the Doukhobors were hard workers, used to the cold weather and difficult conditions, and in time, managed to make the land yield to both their efforts and plows.

By 1907, however, a crisis in landownership had developed, bringing with it fighting and division within the Doukhobor communities. In the face of demands from the Conservative opposition who believed settlement of lands should be on a British model, Prime Minister Sir Lilfred Laurier reneged on his promise that the Doukhobors could live and work in colonies. A new policy required individual homesteading and an oath of allegiance as the terms for free land. This offended many Doukhobors, who believed that if you were a true Christian, you would avoid individual ownership. Others (who called themselves independents), filed land claims, and used the word "affirm" instead of "oath" when they signed the government document for land. Those who were unwilling to accept these new terms lost 121,000 hectares of land, and were allowed to only keep 6 hectares per family.

Some Doukhobors then moved to British Columbia near the Kootenays, and by 1912, 8000 Doukhbors had relocated there to 44 communes. Thirteen villages were set up in Alberta by 300 Doukhobors.

With the death of their leader and the coming of the Depression, other problems beset the Doukhobors. Some wanted to move with the future and learn the ways and culture of their new land. Others did not, believing they must hold steadfast to the old ways. The Sons of Freedom became the most notorious Doukhobor splinter group, and even today (please see sidebar), their highly unusual, sometime even violent protests gain media attention.

By the early 1900s, tensions between Doukhobors and government merely worsened. The Sons of Freedom refused to give vital statistics or send their children to public schools. Public antipathy towards the Russian immigrants led to police crackdowns. From the 1920s to the 1960s, police made hundreds of arrests. The Sons of Freedom responded by staging nude protests.

The dates and events below capsulize the tumultuous history of the Doukhobors since their arrival, and chronicles many of the obstacles and events related to a peaceful settlement here.

1897 Tolstoy proposes the Doukhobors be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. 1899 First Doukhobors settle on the Canadian prairies. Eventually 7,500 settle in Saskatchewan.

1899 Tolstoy completes his novel Resurrection and uses the proceeds to finance the Doukhobor migration to Canada.

1908-1912 About 5,000 Doukhobors move to BC under the leadership of Peter V. Verigin; 19,000 acres of forest land is purchased in the Kootenays.

1919 BC bars Doukhobors and other conscientious objectors from voting.

1924 Leader Peter V. Verigin and eight others (including one member of the provincial legislature) are killed in a train explosion between Castlegar and Grand Forks. The case remains unsolved.

1927 New leader Peter P. Verigin arrives in BC

1931 Doubkhobors are barred from voting in federal elections.

1932 About 600 members of the Sons of Freedom sect of Doukhobors protest their eviction because of nonpayment of taxes and refusal to send their children to school. They are arrested and detained until 1935.

1947-1948 A royal commission investigates arson and bombings in BC It recommends Doukhobor children be integrated in the public school system so they will assimilate.

1953 One hundred and seventy Sons of Freedom children are hunted down, arrested, and forcibly placed in a residential school in New Denver. They are released in 1959.

1950-1962 Sons of Freedom protest throughout the Kootenays by burning their own houses, stripping at court appearances, and planting bombs.

1962 About 800 Sons of Freedom begin walk from the Kootenays to Agassiz Mountain Prison in the Lower Mainland to join their imprisoned relatives. They live at the gates of the prison for 10 years.

1972 The Kootenay Doukhobor Historical Society Village Museum opens in Ooteschenia near Castlegar.

2001 Many of the children sent to residential school in the 1950's file a lawsuit against the government, claiming they were rounded up and confined against their will.

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